MONDAY’S mid-term review by Finance Minister Colm Imbert confirmed that the TT economy had grown in real terms by 1.9 per cent in 2018, reversing the decline that was experienced since 2014.
A key component of that growth was natural gas production which increased in 2018 to an average of 3.63 billion standard cubic feet per day, an eight per cent increase over the 2017 average of 3.36 bcf per day. Further, gas production is expected to reach an average of 3.8 bcf per day in 2019. Indeed, production is already averaging 3.81 bcf per day in the first quarter of 2019.
In reviewing some of our major capital projects Imbert also shared information about the expansion of the road network system, coastal protection and advances in the delivery of air and sea services to Tobago and port development.
The road projects included the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway, the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Sangre Grande, the Valencia-Toco highway, and the Moruga Main Road. Other projects included preparation for the construction of a new modern airport terminal building in Tobago. The 2018 figures surrounding Caribbean Airlines pointed to profitability.
Imports fell to US$5.24 billion in 2018, while exports have remained higher than imports: at US$8.33 billion in 2018, giving TT a significant balance of payments surplus. There is an increased social safety net base by more than 5,000. There were developments in hospital construction, industrial park development and many more accomplishments.
Imbert also indicated that the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund hit an all-time high of US$6.1 billion and the foreign exchange reserves at the Central Bank stood at US$7.3 billion. The country’s revenue in the first half of 2019 was $706 million above the programmed revenue estimated.
The minister also announced that there will be a three-month tax amnesty this year with the establishment of the Revenue Authority. In the minister’s view there was no need whatsoever to impose any additional burdens on citizens.
Given the state of the economy over the last three years, Imbert’s report could be considered commendable. What it lacked however were details about the unemployment situation – a matter which caught the immediate attention of the Opposition who must also be made to explain their alternative proposals. For instance, creating 50,000 new jobs – how many people are living below the poverty line, what is the inequality situation in the economy.
Imbert also needs to provide far more detailed explanations of the gas supply needed for Train I of the Atlantic LNG plant. He also needs to further outline what fuels his dismissal of the scepticism which has followed the reports of the BPTT well failures. He also needs to lay out what the plans are to attract investment to the non-energy sector.
Some other questions remain unanswered. What has happened, for instance, to transfer pricing legislation, Supplemental Petroleum Tax, implementation of property tax, allowance for exports by manufacturers, and the reduction of tax leakages in the system?
These all require ongoing attention by the minister, but maybe they were being left for the preview window not to have earned a place in Monday’s mid-term review. Over to budget 2020.